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Last updated: 02.03.20

What is child grooming?

In order to properly safeguarding children, whether they’re your own or children you’re responsible for as part of your job, you need to understand the different forms of child abuse that children can fall victim to. One form of child abuse which can occur is child grooming, which can be perpetrated in a few different ways.

What is child grooming?

Child grooming is where a relationship is built between a child or young person and an abuser in order to exploit and manipulate them. There are no restrictions on how old or what gender an abuser can be – what matters is their actions.

The relationship can be based on different foundations, with an emotional, authoritative or romantic components being used to provide additional sway over a child. It’s possible for abusers to be in different roles with a child’s life, whether that’s a mentor, teacher, authoritative figure or even someone appearing as a trusted friend.

Grooming relationships can lead to sexual abuse, further forms of exploitation and even child trafficking is the relationship isn’t prevented from developing.

Online grooming vs. Offline grooming

Child grooming isn’t limited to any one medium, with child grooming online becoming an increasingly common occurrence. This is because it allows abusers access to children through social media and messaging apps, circumventing parents and other adults who would protect the wellbeing of children.

Child grooming in person can occur if an abuser is able to acquire a privileged position with a child’s life, with some abusers building relationships with family members or friends to give them access to the child and minimise suspicion.

Abusers can use additional tactics both online or in person to influence a child, such as buying gifts, giving attention and taking them on trips, which can also be used to convince a victim to keep quiet about the abuse.

How to spot the signs of child grooming

Spotting the signs of child grooming can be incredibly difficult as the indicators may be hidden or the behaviour dismissed as being typical teenage actions. There are a range of signs you can encounter, and while one of these signs in isolation might not mean a child is being abused it’s important to take note of it and monitor to see whether more signs crop up over time:

  • Dramatic mood shifts or changes
  • Inappropriate behaviour, specifically overtly sexual behaviour
  • Increase in time spent away from home or periods of disappearance
  • Having an older boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Misuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Secretive behaviour, especially around online behaviour
  • Shifts in their use of devices or time spent online, both increases and decreases
  • Unexplained money or gifts which they won’t discuss

Talking to a child about any concerning behaviour is the most direct way to address any worries, but it can be hard for them to open up about experiencing abuse. Many children or young people are unlikely to realise that they’ve been groomed, which can leave them confused about why parents or adults are concerned about them.

If they do open up to you, it’s important to listen carefully and take what they’re saying serious. Taking one of our online safeguarding courses can help you be more prepared for dealing with safeguarding for children and young adults, and can be completed in your own time.

You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this poster on spotting the signs of child grooming, and this video on safeguarding children.

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